The Student Government Association (SGA) hosted an online forum on student organizations on Monday.
The forum included leaders of student organizations as well as Dean of Student Life Smita Ruzicka, Executive Director of Student Engagement Laura Stott, Student Leadership and Involvement (SLI) Director Calvin Smith Jr. and Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) Joseph Colón.
The meeting opened with accounts from student leaders who spoke about communication issues with SLI and finance concerns.
At the event, sophomore Michael Lin, a member of the Chinese Student Association (CSA) and dance group Eclectics, said that he wanted to see a more collaborative relationship between student groups and SLI staff.
“Communication with OMA and SLI has been challenging,” Lin said. “Due to budget cuts, we have not been able to make CSA events like Lunar Banquet and Dumpling Night as culturally immersive as they should have been.”
Ruzicka described improving communication between administrative offices and student groups as a key goal. She noted that difficulties arise because various offices, not just SLI, interface with student organizations, making a blanket policy necessary.
“Communication is a systemic issue that we are actively trying to address. I envision SLI as being a leader in articulating and creating policies for most student groups,” Ruzicka said. “But we also need to make sure that we have consistent policies across other offices that may be advising student groups.”
Senior Deeya Bhattacharya, co-president of the Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU), said that four of SARU’s emails to SLI staff went unanswered. Smith responded that SLI staff are expected to reply to emails within 48 business hours.
“Do not let situations like that fester; please email me directly. We don’t want to wait months to answer concerns,” Smith said.
Colón confirmed that staff in OMA are also held to that standard.
Additionally, Smith explained that communication regarding event submissions and financial concerns should happen through Hopkins Groups. This allows staff to refer to past conversations in order to answer questions more thoroughly. Sometimes, according to Smith, correspondence on Hopkins Groups is left incomplete.
“One of the things that happens a lot is that we communicate in Hopkins Groups and we never get a response. And stuff just sits,” he said.
Other measures that Smith is implementing include a new website design, as well as a start-of-the-year and mid-year packets for student leaders.
The website will be organized according to broad categories like Fraternities and Sororities, Leadership and Development, Student Organizations, Event Management and Financial Management. It will include information that is relevant to all student groups even if it is not a directive from SLI, such as flyering policies in student dorms. Smith hopes that a clearer website design will allow student organizations to find information more quickly.
Junior Ananya Kalahasti, president of South Asian Students at Hopkins (SASH), argued that student feedback should be considered in the new website design. She described instances when staff could not answer her questions because they could not find information on Hopkins Groups.
“Having more student input in the development of the new website will ensure that students and staff alike will have less transition time and learn to use them faster than Hopkins Groups,” she said.
Smith noted that some students are already testing new programs on Hopkins Groups and their suggestions are being taken into account.
SLI will offer student organization re-registration meetings, in-person lessons on organization finances and training on the use of Hopkins Groups next year. They will also hold monthly meetings to update student organizations and answer questions. They held one such meeting last year.
“We will have monthly meetings irrespective of whether the SGA is involved. So you’ll get information both electronically and in-person,” he said.
Budgetary and financial concerns
Ruzicka noted that the University is facing serious financial repercussions due to COVID-19 which may affect funding for student organizations.
“Student organization budgets, like any other budgets, will be impacted,” Ruzicka said. “How do we help student organizations in a climate that will be financially constrained?”
Smith said that he advised the Student Activities Committee (SAC) and the Student Services Committee (SSC) to allocate funds to student groups as if there are no changes to the budget. They are preparing for scenarios where funds may be up to five percent less than previous years.
Sophomore Cameron Brown, secretary of Hopkins Model United Nations and Vocal Chords, said that the guidelines behind budget allocation were unclear.
“The issue is not how much we get, but the numbers that we end up receiving,” he said. “The guidelines are vague and aren’t published anywhere.”
According to Smith, the deadline for re-registration was delayed so that the SAC had more time to review budgets. Student organizations will have time to review their allocations, correct mistakes and appeal if necessary.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Junior Class Senator Addy Perlman described some of the measures that she is taking as co-chair of the SSC.
“In the summer I will be working with the senators who are prospective finance committee members and the remaining SAC members,” she said. “This way the guidelines will be introduced and voted on in the beginning of the year. We will also communicate with organizations and answer any questions they have.”
In an email with The News-Letter, junior Alice Yang, who helped organize the forum, stated that she was pleased with the results.
“We achieved the best results possible — resolving in part the breakdown in communication between administration and student leaders, and getting some of our most pressing questions answered,” she wrote.
But she, as well as other student leaders, would like future meetings to focus on budget and finances.
Yang listed several concerns, including the inefficacy of the Financial Module, the delays in approving purchase requests, the mismanagement of items purchased by SLI on behalf of student groups and groups being held accountable for debts that are often many years old.
“These are issues that we haven’t yet had a chance to address with the forum, but would really like to do so, as such logistical issues have put great stress on student org leaders and hindered their ability to serve the Hopkins community,” she wrote.